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Iliad founder Xavier Niel
Iliad founder Xavier Niel
Romain Gueugneau and Laurent Guez

PARIS — The stage is set in the middle of the vast, empty and decidedly cold shed of the Halle Freyssinet, a building formerly used as a shipment hub for trains and trucks near the Austerlitz railway station in Paris.

After the presidential lectern is installed, with French and European flags in the background, in comes ... not President François Hollande, but Xavier Niel, founder of the Internet service provider and mobile operator Iliad. Some have dubbed the 47-year-old entrepreneur the French Steve Jobs.

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Cyber War Chronicles: Meet The Hackers Taking On Russia

The war in Ukraine is not just being fought on the ground. The battle for dominance increasingly happens on the digital field, where a worldwide network of cyber-soldiers conduct attacks to disrupt Russia's war effort, from the outside and inside too.

Cameron Manley

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian hackers have been fighting tit for tat on what we can call the "digital front line." To quantify the firepower involved, the number of ransomware attacks on Russian companies has tripled since Feb. 28, according to Kaspersky Lab, a Russian multinational cybersecurity firm that found a direct link between the uptick in online targeting to the breakout of military conflict in Ukraine.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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